One Life at a Time, Please
© 1988 Ed Abbey
Ed Abbey’s final few years were spent in obsessive work, as he knew he was dying and wanted to make provisions for his family. The Fool’s Progress and One Life at a Time, Please, were published in the hopes of supporting his young wife Clarke and their two children after his death. One Life is a motley collection of essays and other short nonfiction pieces, divided into three sections – Politics, Travel, and Books & Art. “Travel” is stock Abbey – reminiscences of various hikes and river jaunts – with the exception of a memoir of his time spent in and around San Francisco, one of the few cities he doesn’t loathe entirely. (He generally refers to them as termite-mounds, the ultimate in collectivism.) Abbey opens the collection with three of his more controversial pieces, one denouncing western ranchers who abused public lands to range their cattle, one imploring the government to close the southern border, and another espousing his personal theory of anarchism. Abbey was if nothing else a passionate defender of the west, despising the distortions that rapid expansion was creating there during his forty-year tenure in Arizona and Utah. He saw the diversion of rivers to water the golf courses of Las Vegas, and the damming of beautiful spaces like Glen Canyon, and was moved to literal (if not particularly effective) violence. His anti-immigrant stance was similarly motivated, as Abbey saw the United States as teeming with too many people as it was, and in no need of newcomers whose treatment of the land was even more severe than the Anglos. The last section closes the book with a bang, especially his tribute to the freelance writer, who by virtue of being independent carried the obligation to speak his mind freely, without deference to either authority or public opinion. He was evidently an enormous fan of Solzhenitsyn, referring to him as a personal hero — along with Thoreau and Tolstoy. Although the collection as a whole is not one of Abbey’s strongest (Desert Solitaire wins there), some of the pieces are so particularly interesting that it’s well worth seeking out.